I will say upfront that the decision on whether to write for free or not is yours
and yours only.
someone who has been making his living from words for 16 years – writing,
translating, editing, proof-reading, tutoring – part of me, admittedly, thinks
giving away words for free undermines the business in which I’m in.
the other part of me acknowledges, perhaps a bit grudgingly, that sometimes it
either needs to be done, or is more excusable.
usual reasons to do it mainly focus on new writers: exposure, profile, reader
feedback, writing CV / portfolio, career. And these are valid. Others might
include: for a charitable cause, for the sheer pleasure of it, or
for a freebie of some kind (tickets to a gig, in exchange for a review, for
instance). Fair enough.
have I done it? For a posh meal. As a favour. These blogs! Several times to
promote my food allergy and intolerance books, including overseas.
would I never do it? I would absolutely never do it in a situation where copyright in the work was required. I have never come across it, apart from in writing competitions,
and this would be a disgrace.
new writers, my feeling on the subject is that you should never be afraid to
broach the subject of money (I covered this in Shy About Money) and don’t
necessarily believe that there isn’t any money to give you (covered in Accepting “we have no budget”). Being professional about the issue of money, even if you’re
not getting any, conveys the message that you are treating this business
seriously, and earning for your words is one of your goals.
think the inexperienced fear it will make them look mercenary, but it will make
you look professional. In a nutshell: always ask, and ask in a way that makes
it tough to say no. Note the difference here:
there any chance of a little something from the budget in exchange for my
piece?” (easy to say no to)
how much should I make out the invoice?” (tough to say no to)
rush into a decision, and weigh up all the facts. Can you afford it? Will it
take a lot of time? Is everyone else on the project getting paid?
to stop writing for free (which, as the title indicates, you should)? Once you’ve done a bit of pro bono work for a
particular client, and you’ve got what you could get out of it, it may be time
to move on. Confronted with a resignation, you’d be amazed how many editors
suddenly find a few notes in their back pocket. The turning point might be when
you begin to feel taken advantage of: it’s a rotten feeling, recognisable by
all, and it’s unfair to put yourself through it for long.
I agree it’s a selfish decision and you must look after number one, I would,
though, urge you to keep the writing community as a whole a close number two. I
once commented on a blog (I think it was Patsy Collins') that when we do accept no pay
(especially when we do it without a fight), it does, in a small way, contribute
to the idea among editors that there are writers out there readily prepared to write for glory or exposure, which can, I
guess, only encourage a mean or cash-strapped editor to go looking for a few
more of them.
But the more we
say ‘no thanks’ and the more we press for money, the more likely the idea that
budgeting for writers is really, really important will seep through to editors’
and publishers’ minds, which will, I hope, encourage a mean or cash-strapped
editor to be more prepared to spend some money or harass his publisher for a
more generous budget.
ultimately benefits all of us.
Labels: Copyright, Mistakes, Money